University libraries update research tool for digital resources

Oct. 26, 2017, 7:34 p.m.

The Stanford University Library (SUL) made updates to its SearchWorks research tool in early September, seeking to better meet students’ research needs by improving library search functions to find digital resources.

The new system, Articles+, will combine over 2,000 research databases available to the library.

According to Phyllis Kayten, an outreach and instruction librarian with SUL, Articles+ improves on existing search tool SearchWorks by allowing users to access online articles directly once they appear in a search.

“Articles+ really streamlines the researching process and helps keep me from getting overwhelmed with choosing the right database,” said Daniel Guillen ’21, who has used the system for his Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) class. “I think it could use more features that help people find more specific results, but it’s really nice to see many databases all in one place.”

Library resource company EBSCO worked with the Stanford team to design and modify SUL’s existing website themes from the interface for SearchWorks. Additionally, EBSCO indexed a large number of research databases to make accessing them and search results faster.

Jennifer Vine, a user experience designer for SUL, said that one of the reasons SUL chose to work with EBSCO was the company’s ability to implement a search tool that targets a specific area of of research. This will allow the Articles+ system to work with the precision of specific databases under the hood while retaining a simple interface.

“That is definitely a longer-term plan but we definitely want to be able to do that,” Vine said about targeting research areas.

The search function on the library’s homepage has also been upgraded to provide top results from many of the library’s resources in one place. According to Vine, results come in “Bento Box” form: a style of results characterized by the division of the page into distinct regions containing succinct search results from many sources at one time. The individual regions provide results from the library catalog, Articles+, the library website and Yewno — a resource for exploring relationships between concepts. Each section shows the top three results from that resource.

According to Felicia Smith, the head of Learning and Outreach at SUL, the version of the program launched in September has basic search functionality, and a design team is still actively working to improve the product.

“One main difference is that you can export all of our articles and citations directly from our databases into RefWorks,” Smith said, “but [for] Articles+, that’s still a work in progress.”

Kayten said one of the largest flaws in the current system is the lack of research databases provided by ProQuest. Kayten stated that the Articles+ system will only return articles available through ProQuest that were cited by EBSCO, but anything only available through a ProQuest database will not be returned through Articles+.

“You still can get things that are provided by ProQuest, but it had to be cited in one of the databases that EBSCO’s discovery system is looking at,” Kayten explained.

Along with making upgrades to the research tools, the library has begun a new outreach program to teach new students how to properly use the resources. On the SUL YouTube channel, a series of recently published videos spends five minutes or less apiece explaining a key research skill. The videos feature an animated character, Stanford Nerd Squirrel, explaining research at what is meant to be a particularly accessible level. Videos are being shown to students in PWR classes.

“The Nerd Squirrel Videos were a great supplement to the library tour and research information session,” said current PWR student Aarthi Popat ’21. “They really made college-level research less intimidating to me and were a great debrief on how to use the database.”


Contact Tyler Johnson at tjohn21 ‘at’

Tyler Johnson '21 is a writer in for the University beat. He intends to major in Computer Science. Contact him at tyler.johnson “at”

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